Workers in Danger as Tunnel Collapses at Top-Secret US Nuclear Waste Site

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22 May, 2017

The Department of Energy said the affected tunnel was located next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility known as PUREX.

"At that point... an emergency was declared and about half a dozen employees at the facility were evacuated", he said.

There were no workers inside the tunnel when it collapsed.

A 20-foot hole in the roof of a tunnel at Washington state's Hanford nuclear waste site will be filled with clean soil, according to the US Department of Energy. During routine surveillance, the agency said it discovered a 20-foot wide hole in the roof of one of the tunnels. "We're going to approach this slowly, safely, and methodically", said Henderson. Thousands of workers moved into the site where plutonium was produced for use in atomic bombs. Nonessential employees have since been sent home, and essential employees were instructed to avoid the site of the tunnel.

So far, radiation dangers and injuries appear to have been averted, but tests and monitoring are continuing, they say.

According to Energy Department officials, no spent nuclear fuel is stored in the tunnel - located about 170 miles east of Seattle, near southeastern Washington on the Columbia River.

Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a non-profit that monitors the nuclear reservation said plutonium has already been detected in local fish stocks and worries that if changes don't come soon, wild salmon stocks could be next.

Destry Henderson, spokesperson with the Hanford Emergency Center, said: "Emergency responders will remain in scene for the time being to ensure the site remains secure as recovery plans continue".

As part of a huge, ongoing cleanup, rail cars full of radioactive waste were driven into tunnels and buried, Bradbury said. "There's no indication of contamination spread during this event". The collapsed tunnel caused soil on the surface above it to sunk by 2 feet to 4 feet over an area of 400 square feet.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the Department of Energy and The White House reached out to his office after the incident.

Hanford made plutonium for nuclear weapons for years and is in the midst of a multidecade, multibillion-dollar cleanup of the leftover waste.

The anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear said the incident helped show "radioactive waste management is out of control".

Hours after authorities scrambled to respond, they determined there is no initial evidence that workers have been exposed to radiation or that there has been an "airborne radiological release".

Photo via the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Hanford site was built during World War II and made plutonium for most of the US nuclear arsenal, including the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of the war.

The tunnel is said to contain highly contaminated materials including equipment used to transport radioactive fuel rods.

Later Tuesday, the Energy Department said "The incident is moving from the emergency phase towards the recovery phase".


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